Yesterday I featured a guest column from screenwriter Justin Marks in the Hollywood Reporter. For those of you outside the Hollywood system, Justin offers a nice glimpse of what it’s like to be a working screenwriter.
Here’s the bottom line: Getting a movie made is hard. Really hard. A vast majority of scripted projects do not get produced. That is reflected in most screenwriters’ resumes. That small stack of scripts? Those are the ones that get made. That big ass stack of scripts? Those are the ones that don’t get made.
Case in point: Tom Benedek. When I broke into the business in 1987, Tom had already been plying his trade as a screenwriter for several years. We are talking about a career three decades long. In that time, Tom has three official writing credits: Cocoon (1985), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), and Zeus and Roxanne (1997).
Three movies. During that time, Tom has worked on projects with Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Richard Rush, Harold Ramis, Lauren Schuler Donner and Richard Donner, Ray Stark, Brian Grazer, Working Title, Jersey Title, Jersey Film, Chris Blackwell, and others, all on projects that never made it to production.
That’s a lot of scripts.
So one day, Tom was looking at these boxes and boxes of his scripts and… well, here’s a NYT article that fills us in:
In the dim light of a shooting range, a figure clad in black baggy trousers and a black T-shirt is carefully loading a .45-caliber pistol. He adjusts his glasses, plants his feet and aims straight ahead.
Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Five ear-splitting cracks ring through the cavern, and a flurry of paper – like tiny white feathers – wafts to the floor.
“That’s ‘Ivory Joe,’ ” says the screenwriter Tom Benedek, who has just pumped bullets into one of his 22 unproduced scripts. “It’s a rewrite of an adaptation I did after ‘Free Willy’ for Lauren Shuler Donner,” he adds, referring to a well-known producer. “A romantic comedy-drama.”
Many a Hollywood screenwriter has bemoaned the brutal Darwinism of the movie business, has felt the dull pain of too many pages and too many years of orphaned work unproduced and unrecognized. Few, however, have found the path of catharsis and creativity discovered by Mr. Benedek.
Having shot the “Ivory Joe” script, which he wrote in 1992, Mr. Benedek will make it into a bronze sculpture, or take photographs with a special camera for striking jumbo prints. He will show these and other pieces this month in an exhibition at the Frank Pictures gallery in Santa Monica titled “Shot by the Writer – Works on Paper: 1982-2004.”
Here are some examples of Tom’s art:
Every Hollywood screenwriter learns to cope with loss and rejection. It comes with the territory. In Tom’s case, he turned his ‘dead’ scripts into art… in a unique way.
Takeaway: You need to be a survivor to make it as a Hollywood writer. The wins are great. The highs are awesome. But more often than not, you confront valleys, dry spells, and flat-out failures.
Prepare yourself now for the inevitable ups… and downs.
For the rest of the NYT article on Tom Benedek, go here.